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India’s vaccine policy: Key takeaways from government affidavit

Vaccinating over 90 crore Indians can be no easy task. India’s confusing vaccine policy and slow rate of vaccination seem to have made it even tougher. Prompting the Supreme Court to step in—using a “dialogic jurisdiction” over executive policy-making to protect the right to life.

In its June 2 order, the apex court had posed over 20 questions to the union government and sought full disclosure of vaccine policy documents as well as a policy review.

The government’s response filed with the Supreme Court suggests a three-month blank in vaccine policy making, varying estimates of production, and an over two-fold increase in supply over the next few months.

BloombergQuint previewed the government affidavit, here are the highlights.
1. Jump In June And July Vaccination Rate
A total 12 crore vaccine doses will be allocated to states in July, says the affidavit.

  • Covishield: 10 crore.
  • Covaxin: 2 crore.

Of these 9 crore will be made available free, whereas 3 crore doses will be administered via private hospitals.

That’s a big step up in supply.

In May, India administered 5.53 crore doses. In June, the number will likely be 11 crore, taking the total to approximately 33 crore.

While the precise supply timeline isn’t clear in the affidavit, assuming all 12 crore doses are indeed available and administered in July, that would mean around 45 crore doses have been administered by the end of July.

That would leave another 143 crore doses pending, based on an estimated 93-94 crore adult Indians and two doses per person.

2. Vaccine Supply: Varying Estimates
Interestingly, that’s close to the new estimate the government has offered for vaccine availability in the August to December period—135 crore doses.

In its June 2 order, the Supreme Court had asked for “a roadmap of projected availability of vaccines till Dec. 31, 2021”.

To be clear, in its first affidavit, on May 9, the government had said the availability of vaccines for next six months would be difficult to project.

Yet, on May 13 the health ministry said in a public briefing that 216 crore doses will be available between August – December. This was repeated in a PIB fact-checking article on May 27.

Now, in the government’s June affidavit, that number stands reduced by a third.

As many as 135 crore doses will be supplied between August and December 2021, says the affidavit. More, if imported vaccine supplies come through.

  • Covishield: 50 crore.
  • Covaxin: 40 crore.
  • Bio E Sub unit vaccine: 30 crore (still in clinical trials).
  • Zydus Cadila DNA vaccine: 5 crore (still in clinical trials).
  • Sputnik V: 10 crore.

Yet, even at 135 crore doses, India will have almost enough to vaccinate all adults by year end. That’s if the supply estimate doesn’t change again.

3. A 3-Month Blank?
The June 2 order of the Supreme Court made an uncommon request of the government. “While filing its affidavit, union of India shall also ensure that copies of all the relevant documents and file notings reflecting its thinking and culminating in the vaccination policy are also annexed on the vaccination policy.”

Well, here’s what the affidavit has provided:

  1. A vaccine policy document pertaining to operational guidelines and updated as of Dec. 28, 2020. The document has a paragraph each on eligible population and vaccines under development in India. It’s largely devoted to national, state and regional management of vaccination process, data etc.
  2. Letters, dated May and June, from the union health ministry to states regarding workplace vaccination, near-to-home vaccination, Covid-19 management in pediatric age group and inoculation of India’s team to the Tokyo Olympics.
  3. The April 21 vaccine policy statement (50% domestic supply to central government, 50% to states and private hospitals).
  4. The June 7 vaccine policy statement (Reversing the April policy—75% supply to central government and 25% to private hospitals).

The affidavit contains no communication in the months of January, February, March and most of April—between the expert group on vaccines (NGEVAC) and government officials or between federal government and states. Nor does it have any documentation on vaccine production capacity, supply estimates, coverage expansion in those months.

It’s not clear if the documentation doesn’t exist or the government has chosen not to share it.

As for the central government’s claim that it changed the policy in April because states had demanded to be able to procure their own vaccines, the affidavit provides no letters from the states—“As the same is not relevant for the purpose at this stage, I am not annexing those written requests received from the State Governments.”

Much of this may, for the moment, seem like water under the bridge. By announcing a new vaccine policy earlier this month the union government has already addressed the key concerns raised by the Supreme Court in its June 2 order and cured most of the infirmities in the extant policy. More importantly, vaccine supply is finally picking up.

But why it lagged for three crucial months is a question there are still no clear answers to. BloombergQuint

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